On May 7 we will have a once-in-five-years chance of deciding who governs us. The fact that in most parliamentary constituencies the result is a forgone conclusion, apparently makes no difference. After all, the politicians will have their mandate and so democracy will have be served. Well that’s the theory anyway…
But how will we make our choice on polling day? What sort of scrutiny will the various manifestos receive? How many election leaflets will be read?
As far as I can tell, coverage of the election is mostly limited to completely bias reports in the print media, and seemingly superficial news items in the broadcast media. Even when the latter do probe a little deeper, it usually involves party spokespersons scoring points off each other; or pundits labouring a point that has already been answered. Yes, the leadership debates were good, but what was actually said was lost in the media scramble to decide who’d won.
What’s more, it seems that in this election, like others before it, it is the Westminster parties, the pundits and the media who’ve set the agenda. But more worryingly, they’ve also set the parameters of any debate. Clearly, some issues, such as the economy, the health service and education should warrant plenty of discussion. But others such as transport, science and technology, the arts, animal welfare, electoral reform, TTIP, and climate change, to name just some, are rarely covered.
When we do get beyond the soundbites, discussion is then confined to what has become the established viewpoint. So welfare policy is never about need, or of helping vulnerable people, but about the cost and how much of the benefits budget each party can cut. Support for the NHS is always about the money, and never about the service. And if you want social housing, then the first question asked is, “how will you pay for it?”
Clearly policy commitments need costing, and politicians must explain themselves, I get that. But it seems that, even though deficits are nothing new, any policy involving public expenditure is now only considered in the context of deficit reduction. Indeed, the coalition, together with the media, have shifted the goalposts so that spending commitments are judged bad and deficit reductions good. In contrast, any alternative proposals to cuts, such as raising revenue through, for example, a wealth tax, are generally ignored.
It means pundits rarely question the political status quo; and the human cost of austerity and the inequality it creates is largely ignored. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the involvement of the SNP, Green Party and Plaid Cymru in the leadership debates, the anti-austerity message would barely have registered in this campaign. I find this frustrating at best, but surely this narrow focus on the status quo is in the end, disingenuous to all of us voters.